The Wizard of Os(walt)

Chris Norris@@MrChrisNorrisContributor ISeptember 12, 2008

Picture this: It's June 15th and a scuffling Roy Oswalt is set to start at home against the New York Yankees. He is 5-6 and battling a hip pointer that had caused a few of his previous starts to be pushed back.

The Houston Astros are hovering around .500 and having to watch the Chicago Cubs become the darlings of the National League Central. On this day, the Yankees pound the Astros into submission, 13-0, and the "what the hell is wrong with Roy Oswalt" bandwagon begins to get really crowded.

Fast-forward almost three months later.

While the Cubs still may be everyone's darling, the Astros are playing like the Kings of National League. At this point, most of us know about their hot streak, but many people are unfamiliar with how they have become so hot.

Lance Berkman started the year as a strong MVP candidate, and while his .328 average (fourth in the NL), 28 HRs (14th), 100 RBI (eighth), and 100 runs (second) still may be good enough for him to win the award, he has not been the catalyst of the Astros' late-season surge.

Roy Oswalt's 2.51 ERA in August and 0.00 ERA in two starts in September (including consecutive shutouts) has been what has propelled Houston back into relevance this late into the baseball season.

The former back-to-back 20-game winner now has 15 wins this season, 32-1/3 straight scoreless innings (an Astros record), and has held opponents to a .198 batting average since the All-Star Break.

His remarkable second-half performance has been overshadowed by CC Sabathia, Manny Ramirez, and the crisis that the New York Yankees appear to be headed towards some free time in October...Finally!

The low-key farmer from Mississippi has been doing this for seven years now, and if nothing else, I want the Astros to win the wild card so that the nation can get a chance to see how great Oswalt truly is.

He is the winningest pitcher in the major league since he was called up in 2001, and I bet less than one percent of baseball fans would even have him in the top five. He is the No. 1 reason the Astros were able to turn a lost season into potentially one of the greatest late-season runs in the history of the game.